Adrian Stanyer's Horsehead

20 February 2019

The end of Summer is coming, and the Sun is starting to move towards Orion. For astronomers, this means that the Horsehead season is drawing to a close.

Adrian Stanyer sent me this excellent photo of the Horsehead Nebula the other day. The Horsehead is one of the most recognisable and pleasing nebulas anywhere. Photographically, it's quite a challenge, as it's not bright.

Adrian is pretty new to astrophotography, having just been in it for 5 months. He says it's an extremely rewarding hobby that is highly addictive. Even though, the whole experience has been a very steep learning curve.

This Horsehead is taken with the saxon 200DS astrophotography telescope Adrian got from Optics Central. The scope is on a saxon NEQ6 Pro go-to mount, also from Optics Central. The photo itself was taken with an ASI 294MC Pro, which is a colour CMOS camera, hooked to a laptop.

Adrian uses autoguiding, which is a way of improving the mount's ability to track the stars. He's added a QHYR-ii guide camera which is connected to an Orion 50mm guide scope. This sends correction information to the same laptop, which then tells the NEQ6 Pro to nudge left or right to keep the guiding spot on. The system all works together.

Adrian took about 40 photos, each of 4 minutes, which he then combined using a bit of software called Astro Pixel Processor. This "stack" is a single colour photo with very low noise, which he then worked on a bit more in Photoshop.

Looking back, Adrian says that it took him a month after getting the gear to "first light", when he produced his first image. Getting from that point to this photo after only 5 months would be very pleasing.

Adrian wants to work on better processing of stars. He also says he wants to keep improving the guiding accuracy. He says his average error can be up to 1.2 arc seconds. Seriously, that's 0.0003 degrees!

That's the thing about astronomy as a hobby. No matter how good you get, there's always something more to work towards.